Or why to outline your book.
I don’t outline. Or maybe I do. When I write, I write sparingly, then go back and fill in the description, history, details, allusions, punctuation. I think ahead with plot, and write brief sentences or phrases to let me know where I am headed. I make my notes a couple of pages ahead of the text and use no special format.
However, I was recently required to submit an outline of my historical fiction novel. My husband said, “You outlined all your books in law school. Can’t you do the same thing with your novel.” I started to tell him a novel was nothing like a text book, but stopped. I had noting to lose trying to do a novel outline.
So for other non-outliners out there, here are my steps: (Note: I have been hand writing the outline then transferring it to Word’s outline view.)
- Skim each chapter and write phrases or sentences which illustrate the plot developments and essential elements.
- When you record an essential element, does it refer to something earlier that you have forgotten to note? Revise your earlier outline.
- When you have finished—indeed, while you are still working on the outline—you will find some chapters have one line, some many. This is a good time to rethink your chapter breaks. It may be that one plot element is sufficient. It may be that some chapters are too long. This is a great way to edit for readability.
By this time, you have a working outline that you can submit to agents and publishers. And you have a working outline for your own use in editing and revising.